Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What is a Latex Allergy: Part One

I’ve been working for a while to do a really great post on exactly what a latex allergy is and how it can effect someone’s (or a family’s ) daily life. I’ve decided the best way to do this is to break this into two posts—a post about the latex allergy and products that contain latex, and a separate post about its cross reactions with food.

To start- the American Latex Allergy Association (ALAA) defines a latex allergy as an allergy to one or more of the proteins in the natural rubber latex. There are two types of latex allergies, the Type I and the Type IV. They are defined by ALAA as:

Type I (immediate-type) hypersensitivity
Natural Rubber Latex Allergy (NRL) is an IgE-mediated, immediate type hypersensitivity reaction to one or more proteins in natural rubber latex (Hevea brasiliensis). Histamine is release causing symptoms. This reaction is systemic.

Type IV (delayed-type) hypersensitivity is a T cell-mediated, delayed response, and typically occurs 48 to 96 hours after exposure. This is frequently a reaction to the processing chemicals used in manufacturing natural rubber latex (NRL). This reaction is generally localized to the area of contact. This reaction is also referred to as allergic contact dermatitis, T-cell-mediated allergy, or chemical allergy.

They also mention a third type, which is not technically an allergy, but deserves to be mentioned here, as it is not uncommon:

Irritant Contact Dermatitis is a non-allergic reaction. Symptoms typically are dry, irritated, and/or fissured lesions.

So—what does this all mean in normal person speak? Basically, it’s saying there are three ways you can react to latex—one is not technically an allergy, but a sensitivity that causes skin irritation (Irritant Contact Dermatitis). Another is a Type I allergy. Someone with a Type I allergy will react immediately to contact with latex, including spores in the air, and may have respiratory reactions. Finlay, there is the Type IV, which involves having a delayed response to contact, including spores in the air, and the reaction is generally localized and non-respiratory. Both Type I and Type IV, to the best of my knowledge, are cross reactive with food, which, in addition to the symptoms already listed, can cause gastrointestinal distress.

Even more simply put: There are varying degrees of reactions to latex, just like any allergy. Latex, like peanuts or bee stings (or any other allergen), can send some people into anaphylaxis, whereas some people may just experience discomfort.

Where do I fit on this scale? Somewhere in the middle. For the most part, I fit the profile of a Type IV, however, a few things have caused shortness of breath. (Hence, I carry an epi-pen.) My most common reaction is swollen lips, hives on my face and on the site of contact, and gastrointestinal distress.
How much latex can there be in everyday life? Before I developed this allergy, I would have guessed only a few places: gloves, condoms, balloons, maybe medical equipment. What I’ve learned? It’s EVERYWHERE. Latex is commonly found in…
- shoes
- pillows
- mattresses
- Elastic
- Clothing, especially undergarments and socks
- Cell phone and remote control buttons
- Dental products used in fillings, sealants and root canals
- Contraceptive devices
- Blood pressure cuffs, stethoscope tubing, and other medical equipment
- Spandex
- Bandages (like Band-Aids)
- Gym equipment (including mats, resistance bands, balls, and some cardio machines)
- Office equipment, such as mouse pads, keyboards, and rubber-gripped pens
- Feminine sanitary products
- Diapers
- Pacifies and baby-bottle nipples
- Rubber toys
- Sporting equipment, especially swim caps and bathing suits
- Toothbrushes with rubber grips or handles
- Rubber Sink Stoppers and bathmats
- Electrical cords and water hoses
- Eye pieces on cameras, telescopes, or binoculars

The list goes on, but you get the idea—it’s kind of everywhere. And, since, for many people, a latex allergy is sudden onset (like me!), you have to totally re-think your home to get rid of items that literally make you sick. I spent six months sleeping on a latex pillow and waking up feeling sluggish and with a swollen face every morning, and totally unaware of the culprit! Even more tricky? Allergy-free or hypoallergenic alternatives to many products are made of latex, as latex can often be easier to clean to remove dust and mold allergens.

What would I recommend, based on my experiences, for anyone who is diagnosed with a latex allergy? 
  • Walk through you house and literally touch/look at every item. (Only if it is safe for you to do so! If you have respiratory reactions or sever reactions of any kind, recruit someone else to do this.)Think in your head, “what is this made out of?” We sometimes forget about items in our everyday lives because they are so mundane—it’s those items (like pillows!) that can be secretly poisoning us.
  • Ask questions before you buy a product.I email or call companies before I buy or use a lot of things. Companies are generally really receptive and quick in their responses.This includes food companies, which I'll discuss more in my post on how latex relates to food.
  • Write things down and take pictures.Allergies are often hard to treat. I went to several doctors before figuring mine out. The problem is that you generally aren’t having a reaction in the doctor’s office. I started taking pictures of my reactions and keeping a detailed diary of where I went and what I ate. This helped me talk to the doctor, and it also helped me figure out where and what to change in my daily life.
  • Talk. A lot. Talking to others with the same allergy is beneficial not only for tips on what to buy and not buy, but also it can help you find support. Anyone with any allergy knows that sometimes you feel frustrated and isolated, and finding others is key to feeling supported. Also, talking helped me discover more about my own allergy, its genetic roots in my family tree, and how it affects me.You also learn that things you thought were normal (like something making you feel tired or sick), is not normal.
Stay tuned for What is a Latex Allergy: Part Two- Latex Allergies and Food.


1 comment:

  1. Such an interesting post. Have you seen my post below todays on my blog? I've been getting a rash/welts since before Christmas but of course they are never present when I go to the DR's he just keeps saying "keep an eye on it". Grrrr.

    Blimey that list seems never ending!